Growing Up, The New York Yankees' Ballpark Was My Second Home
"The Yankees must win" is more than a playoffs chant you may hear at New York's Yankee Stadium. In my home, "The Yankees must win" was the rallying cry my dad used to turn me into a lifelong fan — even though I was born and raised in Queens, unequivocally Mets fan territory, like my mom. He reminded me that if the Yanks made the playoffs —and better yet, the World Series — he'd be able to earn more tips, which meant more toys for me at Christmas time. It was a good sell, especially for three-year-old Jada.
My dad worked at Yankee Stadium for decades before I was even born. And when he wasn't working, Yankees T-shirts seemed to be his actual off-duty uniform — he even kept me decked out in them. But he also had some help in my Yankees fan recruitment. Hall of Famer coach Joe Torre is the brother of Sister Marguerite Torre, a nun who belonged to the same Brooklyn diocese as my Catholic high school. My high school was always filled with Yankees gear and Derek Jeter jerseys (only on dress-down days, of course), and a flurry of spirited pinstripe pride graced our lockers. Joe Torre's reign brought about the 1996 World Series Yanks, which kept up an incredible winning streak thanks to Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and my all-time favorite player, #42, Mariano Rivera. I cheered — and prayed in school — for the Bronx Bombers to reign supreme, but unlike my classmates, I had an extra special connection to the Yankees' dugout.
I didn't quite understand what my dad did growing up, so I'd tell my classmates that he was a banker by day and a baseball player at night, kind of like a Bronx-born Superman.
My dad grew up in the South Bronx in the '60s, and he landed his very first job at 14 years old selling Cracker Jacks at Yankee Stadium. Although he started working at J.P. Morgan in his late 20s, he maintained his Yankees schedule even with his full-time job, working nights and weekends well after I was born.
I didn't quite understand what my dad did growing up, so I'd tell my classmates that he was a banker by day and a baseball player at night, kind of like a Bronx-born Superman. In reality, he ran the kitchens for every night home game. And thanks to hanging out with my dad and with co-workers in those kitchens, I was exposed to the stadium in a way that makes it feel like my second home. The stadium, for me, was a place where so many cultures intersected, and that kind of environment where everyone is represented is what I always look for throughout my life. Through my dad's job at Yankee Stadium, my extended family includes an Italian American beer seller we call Cousin Brewsky, and my late Uncle Smitty who would defiantly wear Mets gear although he worked at Yankee Stadium for years. Growing up, I'd be greeted with hugs, told how big I'd gotten in the huskiest of New York accents, that my dad filled them all in on my latest report card. As I got older and was able to afford my own concert tickets, my dad helped me scope out my seats at the stadium for Jay-Z, Eminem, and Romeo Santos, making sure I paid for the best seat in the house on Ticketmaster. And you can't get more Puerto Rican than the South Bronx, with flags flying with pride on cars and the sound of salsa and freestyle coming from nearby bars ready for a flock of revelers after the ninth inning. It's the place where I can scream, "Vamos los Yankees!" at a fever pitch, fist pump to house music, and of course, trash talk the Boston Red Sox, if I'm being super real.
My dad retired after 47 years of working at Yankee Stadium in 2016, but my stadium family reminds me that home will forever be home. He was proud to leave the field as one of the most tenured employees ever, and even snagged an Employee of the Month honor.
Now when I head to see my Yanks, I purchase the cheapest ticket I can find and meet my dad's old team at the same kitchen in the same gate, where they stack my bag with hot dogs, sodas, and beers for me and my friends. The security guards help me find a spot with a good view, and I root for my home team. In a city as gigantic as New York that moves at mach speed, I can always hop on the 4 train and find a bit at home at the ballpark, a forever connection to my dad, and my family's early start in the Boogie Down.
In this spirit, I'm excited to share Bustle's All American: Sports series, highlighting the stories of athletes — and everyday sports fans — who find a bit of family, faith, and culture in their game of choice. You'll learn about writer Anayo Awuzie's special connection to soccer thanks to her father (a former Nigerian professional soccer player), what connects Monica Puig to both her culture and tennis, and how women's World Cup contenders and WNBA athletes stay rooted in their sport thanks to their upbringings. We hope you enjoy reading all of the stories in our All American: Sports series — and find a bit of home within them as well.